Expanding the Agroforestry Regional Knowledge (ARK) Exchange Network in Virginia

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2023: $79,957.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2025
Grant Recipients: Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education; Virginia State University; Appalachian Sustainable Development
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Katie Trozzo
Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education
Dr. Eric S. Bendfeldt
Virginia Cooperative Extension
Herbert Brown, Jr.
Virginia State University's Small Farm Outreach Program
Dr. Kim Niewolny
Virginia Tech
Adam Taylor
Virginia Tech Catawba Sustainability Center


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: agroforestry
  • Education and Training: mentoring, networking, technical assistance

    Proposal abstract:

    Agroforestry, an intentional, integrated agriculture + forest management approach, is of increasing interest among Virginia farmers given its ability to improve ecosystem function, support crop and livestock production systems and diversify farm income. Agroforestry systems spatially and strategically integrate trees into agro-ecosystems and non-timber crops into forest ecosystems and can play a role in helping farmers and landowners address the many urgent and complex economic, environmental, and social issues that challenge farm sustainability, profitability, and resilience. Virginia has been at the forefront of agroforestry innovation in research, demonstrations, and training through the years, and from this several Agricultural Educators/Professionals (AgEdPros) have emerged as leaders who provide support to farmers and landowners. However, many aspiring and practicing agroforesters express difficulty accessing support because much of the available agroforestry educational and technical assistance is dispersed. This budding community needs support through coordinated training and network development. This proposal represents a collaboration between Virginia Tech’s Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation (VT-CSFST) and Catawba Sustainability Center (VT-CSC), Virginia State University (VSU), Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE), Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD), the Virginia Association for Biological Farming (VABF), and farmers to address this agroforestry-related educational and technical assistance need. Our team will expand Virginia’s Agroforestry Regional Knowledge (ARK) Exchange Network, enhance Train the Trainer (TtT) programming, and amplify awareness and coordination of existing and emerging on-farm research and demonstrations using a collective impact approach to grow agroforestry systems and a coordinated educational technical assistance network in Virginia.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The overall project goal is to expand the Agroforestry Regional Knowledge (ARK) Exchange Network in Virginia using a collective impact approach to strengthen, solidify, and anchor an informal network of farmers, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, governmental agency, and non-governmental partners across the state through enhanced TtT programming and coordination of  existing and emerging on-farm agroforestry systems demonstrations. The project builds on the foundation of earlier agroforestry and silvopasture systems research and demonstrations (e.g., VT-CSC, VT’s Kentland Farm, Shenandoah Valley AREC, Clermont Farm, Southern Piedmont AREC, Jubilee Climate Farm) to better connect the constellation of regional agroforestry educational and technical assistance support that has emerged and gained traction across Virginia the last decade. To this end, we will leverage and build upon the Edwards Mother Earth Foundation (EMEF) Catalyzing the Next Phase of Appalachian Agroforestry (CNPAA) and the Climate Smart Agroforestry: Multi-Regional Training for Technical Service Providers (CSA), led by VT and ASD, respectively, that were initiated early 2022 to: 1) develop and formalize an ARK Exchange Network across the Appalachian region, 2) provide agroforestry TtT programming, and 3) distribute grants to producers to establish agroforestry demonstrations. Presently, 19 of these agroforestry grants have been awarded to producers in Virginia, with at least 50% of the grants awarded to historically underserved audiences. They are also in the process of developing extensive online and in person agroforestry TtT curriculum for silvopasture, alley cropping, and forest farming practices. Additionally, we will expand upon the agroforestry technical assistance and educational programming efforts of other project collaborators including the VT-CSC, VSU’s Small Farm Outreach Program (SFOP), and the two-day Land Planning for Agroforestry workshop recently supported by Virginia SARE as a professional development opportunity. 

    This two-year SARE professional development programming and peer-to-peer mentoring proposal will specifically engage the following educational and technical assistance provider audiences: VSU Small Farm Outreach Program assistants, Virginia Cooperative Extension agents, NRCS field conservationists and technicians, SWCD district staff, NGO field personnel, farmer mentor-leaders, and other agricultural educational professionals.  

    Objective 1: Foster communication, coordination, and peer-to-peer learning between educational and technical assistance partners as the ARK Exchange Network to enhance collaboration, permanence, and lasting impact of agroforestry TtT professional development programming in Virginia.

    • The ARK Exchange Network will increase the collective impact of project collaborators to develop, share, educate, and disseminate agroforestry research and demonstration-based knowledge in their professional development programming to affect the adoption, implementation, and durability of agroforestry systems by farmers in Virginia.
    • The project will strengthen the relationship  between Virginia Tech and Virginia State University to increase agroforestry knowledge exchange between the institutions as well as their capacity to collaborate on agroforestry programming, research, and demonstrations. 
    • Project collaborators will increase their individual organization’s capacity to support farmers' needs for educational and technical assistance. 

    Objective 2: Provide coordinated agroforestry TtT professional development programming to foster peer-to-peer learning, information sharing, and network building among agricultural educational professionals and farmer mentor-leaders.

    • 90% of participants increase their knowledge, skills, and aptitude in agroforestry system design, establishment and maintenance such as knowledge of tree species suited for regions and sites, planting/establishment techniques, protection methods/systems, spatial arrangement, and more
    • 90% of participants are equipped with educational knowledge, technical training skills, and cultural community-based competencies to support farmers, especially historically underserved producers, with agroforestry systems adoption, implementation, and maintenance
    • 80% of participants increase their awareness of educational resources, specialist support, and existing and emerging on-farm research and demonstration sites within their region and statewide as part of the ARK Exchange Network
    • 30% of farmer mentor-leaders and AgEdPro participants have or plan to initiate or enhance existing projects that can serve as demonstration case studies
    • 30% of AgEdPros and farmer mentor-leaders participants have offered or plan to offer agroforestry training programs for farmers in their region
    • 30% of AgEdPros and farmer mentor-leaders participants have offered or plan to offer 1:1 support to aspiring or established agroforesters
    • At least 13 VSU-SFOP Assistants, and 5 mentor farmers they work with, will increase their knowledge of agroforestry
    • Over 100 AgEdPros and mentor farmers will participate in project programs
    • Over 100 AgEdPros and mentor farmers join the ARK Exchange Network

    Long-term changes/impacts, beyond the project may include: 

    • Greater adoption, implementation, and longevity of agroforestry systems
    • Formalized and expanded ARK Exchange Network that is adaptive and responsive to culture, context, and change 
    • Improved ecological function and health
    • Integrated multi-faceted stacked agricultural, livestock, and value-adding enterprises
    • Increased climate resilience on farms
    • Greater quality of life for producers, communities, and consumers including improved economic well-being of farmers
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.